Spotlight on Perry: Meet a teacher who rocks it
April 16, 2019
Massillon Independent. Craig Whitaker used to collect rocks as a kid. Now he teaches geology at Perry High.
PERRY TWP. When Craig Whitaker was little he thought rocks were pretty cool. He used to collect them in a wagon and wheel them out to the street to try to sell them.
Now Whitaker is a physical geology teacher at Perry High School, though it took him a few years to figure out his career path.
“It wasn’t until I got into college and found out I really like rocks,” Whitaker said.
He attended Kent State University for a Bachelor of Arts in Earth Science and then went on to be an environmental consultant in the Cleveland area for three years. Eventually, he decided he wanted to move back to Perry, where he grew up. First, he furthered his education degree and obtained a Master of Science in Geosciences from Mississippi State.
Now Whitaker is in his 16th year of teaching at Perry.
Recently he was awarded the 2019 Pipeline Award from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP). The award was presented during OOGEEP’s presentation at the Ohio Oil and Gas Association’s annual industry meeting.
Meet Craig Whitaker
Who: Perry High School physical geology teacher
How long: 16th year of teaching
What: Received the 2019 Pipeline Award from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program
Whitaker is the sixth recipient to receive the industry’s annual award, which is given out each year to an individual who has made a positive educational impact in the state.
He said he wasn’t even aware of the award until he received it. Receiving the award has been a great experience, he said, and it all centers around a teacher workbook he helped create, which has lessons focusing on geology.
In 2014, Whitaker attended an OOGEEP STEM program where he suggested working on a new curriculum and teacher workshop for geology. He worked with educationproject.org and Heather Bryan, to create a teacher workbook, which is expected to be on the OOGEEP website.
A pilot program was launched in 2016 and now he serves as one of the instructors at OOGEEP’S STEM and geology teacher workshops, which are offered at no charge to Ohio teachers. Whitaker said he has traveled to put on workshops in Columbus and last year in West Virginia.
Other than the state guidelines of what to teach, there aren’t many resources for high school teachers relating to geology, said Whitaker.
“Craig Whitaker has taken a lead role in improving Ohio educators’ abilities to teach science in an engaging way,” Greg Mason, Vice Chair of OOGEEP’s Operating Board and an industry geologist by trade said in a statement. “He has taken real-world experience, applied it in the classroom and now shares that with other educators. This has a direct and positive impact on our industry, and to those students that may enter our future workforce.”
OOGEEP, created in 1998, is a non-profit statewide education and public outreach network. The organization provides programs focusing on teacher workshops, scholarships, science fair, firefighter training, industry safety training, career and workforce development, research and guest speaker programs.
In addition to teaching students at Perry, Whitaker is an adjunct professor at both Stark State College and Eastern Gateway Community College.
He teaches a college credit plus physical geology course and a regular physical geology course at Perry. Through the college credit plus program, students can earn four credits toward higher education. There are between 140 and 160 students taking geology courses at Perry.
Some of the material covered includes the big bang origin of the universe, climate change, rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, glaciation and earthquakes.
Whitaker said he enjoys the plate tectonics aspect the most.
“Plate tectonics is the unifying theory and links everything together,” Whitaker said.
He said plate tectonics gives students an idea of how the Earth has changed and why there are mountains. One tool he uses in the classroom often is Google Earth so he can show different cities and landscapes from different angles.
“I try to do as little lecture as possible,” Whitaker said. “We do lots of hands-on stuff.”
What is most rewarding for him is when past students come back and tell him the impact he had on their careers. He said one of his former students is now a geologist at Davey Tree in Kent.
One of the biggest challenges he said is getting students to engage in the activity at hand.
The goal has been making a connection between the classroom and the industry he said.
“It’s important to connect the classroom to the industry,” Whitaker said, so that students become more aware of the jobs available in the field.
By Eric Poston
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